Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mike Hart


I was the ATS officer on the Sydney Sector (FIS 5) who had the misfortune to be on duty when these events occurred. It was one of the worst nights of my life. I later resigned from Air Services or the CAA as it was then, to pursue a career elsewhere. I later became a QFI with 1 BFTS RAAF Tamworth and an ATO and C&T Captain with Surveillance Australia (Coastwatch). I spent the last few years of my working life as the Industry Complaints Commissioner for CASA. I am now retired.

After nearly thirty years I have finally managed to bring myself to listen to the audio tape of the night MDX went missing you provided on your blog site. In my view the tape is out of sequence and the last bit should be at  the front and the middle towards the end and therefore the tape is not a reliable record of the events but merely pieces of the transcript.

FYI I was never interviewed by anybody, either from the then  BASI or Air Services Australia, nothing has changed my view in all this time that the aircraft had had a vacuum pump failure and that subsequently the pilot lost of control of the aircraft. I  have personally  had two such incidents in my flying career which required full instrument approaches on a limited panel, each time the loss of the pumps was insidious and not easily detectable except for the fact that I was on instruments both times and only a constant and proper IF scan alerted me early to the fact that the AI did not agree with the rest of the instruments a rigorous adherence to the basic adage Attitude Plus Power=Performance. I do not blame the pilot in anyway, he was presented with a set of circumstances which were beyond him at the time in an aeroplane that has had more than its share of such failures which nobody really trained for or took seriously. I can say that of the hundreds of pilots I subsequently taught, trained and tested I made such all of them could handle a limited panel and then some!

It was a very tragic accident and merely reinforced my professional view that NGTVFR was merely a rating that allowed you to end up sometime in an environment where you were going to come to grief.


Mike Hart


Thank you for responding. You may like to know that I was also rostered on the same sector the next day when the search got underway in full with daylight, from memory I think there were 22 aircraft including helicopters involved, I remember afterwards being kept so busy as it stopped one thinking about the events of the night before. They (the search aircraft) found a few older wrecks but never MDX or any indication of the crash site. My gut feeling at the time was that MDX may have actually gone into Chichester Dam, I do recall that a small oil slick was seen on the lake but this was discounted by searchers at the time. It would be interesting if at some time somebody could do a sonar run on the lake. There were it turned out quite a number of older wrecks around the area north and east of Barrington Tops and these were repeatedly found over and over again during the search. I always have felt for the families and relatives involved as they have never had satisfactory closure on this tragedy.

The search area problem from my perspective was that the winds and weather on the night were quite mixed at or about 10,000 ft. they were very strong westerlies of about 70 knots which would have produced quite severe standing wave turbulence on the lee side or the coastal  ranges there which I think was the final straw for the pilot as he tried to climb out of the cloud he was in, the pilot reported to me that his ADF and I think DG were spinning around, which is not related to the pneumatic system issues but to me as an experienced pilot indicative that the aircraft was probably actually in a spin at that point which would have given him virtually a vertical trajectory from the position at that time with only a little drift from wind.  Whilst we did get a paint on radar at one stage it is very difficult to determine where the aircraft may have tracked or been blown given the conditions on the night.

As a matter of interest I had another Cessna 210 get lost on me when I was transferred to WA in the Kimberly’s in almost identical circumstances but I managed to get enough information from him to basically give him directions and lessons on radio navigation and he eventually landed safely at Fitzroy Crossing. I was later suspended and counselled for doing this. I left Air Services shortly afterwards. Management at the time were more interested in standing procedures and instructions than safety in my view, you will get hints of that in the MDX tape where I was instructed to ask the pilot inane or irrelevant questions about endurance etc. That was the system at the time where there Operational Control was exercised by a desk jockey (semi-retired or failed controllers) in Sydney, the same people also ran the search, thankfully that was later abolished and specialist SAR and Search Centres were established and AMSAR is now the outcome.

I never liked the 210, it was originally a 4 seat aeroplane with wing struts when it was first made by Cessna and then was later stretched to 6 seats and the struts removed. The aircraft would have been very heavy with 6 adults and luggage on board and I really doubt that it was properly within its centre of gravity limits. This would have made the aircraft difficult to control in pitch and this meant the aircraft could be easily overstressed and its turbulence penetration speed was also very low compared to its cruise speed (about 100 knots versus 150 knots) there had been numerous accidents where pilots had inadvertently overstressed the aeroplane and pulled the wings off, so it may well be that the wings are in one place or several places and the fuselage body in another and it would be badly compacted either way, so really anybody looking for the aircraft would probably only see perhaps a wing tip or wing and a bit of tail.

Best of luck.

Mike Hart
Bendemeer NSW